| 6.5°C Dublin

High Court chief raps solicitors’ lies in debt cases

ONE of the country’s top ranking legal professionals has described solicitors’ sworn statements in relation to debt recovery as "not generally reliable".

Master of the High Court Edmund Honohan said that some lawyers had “debased” the concept of the affidavit.

In a judgment, Mr Honohan SC said solicitors were the group “most frequently found to have only a nodding acquaintance with the truth” when it came to swearing affidavits.

Mr Honohan, the brother of Central Bank governor Patrick Honohan, had attacked court procedures relating to debt recovery.

He spoke out against the fairness of allowing banks to get judgment orders against borrowers without a full hearing taking place.

He said he believed the procedures breached the right to fair trial provisions of the European Convention on Human Rights Act 2003.

Many applications are granted on the sworn evidence from creditors' solicitors that a defendant has no defence, Mr Honohan noted.

Law Society director general Ken Murphy has hit back at the comments saying they amounted to a “vicious side-swipe” against the entire solicitors’ profession. He said if Mr Honohan has evidence of lawyers falsely swearing affidavits he should report it for investigation by the Law Society or refer it directly to the president of the High Court.

Mr Murphy said the comment, as reported, “is unworthy of anyone involved in the administration of justice.

“The sworn evidence of solicitors is rightly accepted by judges in all courts every day,” he added.

Mr Murphy accused the master of a sweeping smear against the profession.

“It is this allegation that has no acquaintance – nodding or otherwise – with the truth,” he wrote in a letter published in the Irish Times today.

“Although the Master of the High Court is not a judge, this reported branding of the solicitors' profession as frequently untruthful in their dealings with the courts is unworthy of anyone involved in the administration of justice,” Mr Murphy insisted.

David Hall of New Beginning, which helps out homeowners in repossession cases before the courts, backed Mr Honohan’s remarks about the imbalance between banks and borrowers.

He told the Herald the same can happen with people's homes “if you don't give a defence and you can't afford legal representation or you're too scared to go to court.

“The process goes on without you. You're served with the papers, you're given every opportunity to come but a bank is a very big organisation that has full administrative and legal staff. You're at a huge disadvantage when it comes to this process in relation to a bank.


“They have all the power and authority to come into court whereby the average person can't afford that and most certainly a person in financial difficulty is not going to be able to afford legal representation,” Mr Hall added.

At the moment, a defendant has one opportunity to make their case in a crowded court, Mr Honohan stated.

Debtors representing themselves could be confused and unaware they should have a sworn affidavit, the master said.

If a defendant is refused leave to defend, they have effectively lost the case with only a right of appeal to the Supreme Court, he added.